A GUIDE TO CARING FOR SENIORS
BY ADAM BILEY
Aging is a fact of life and it affects all families. As adult children, when imagining your parents as seniors, you may not fully comprehend the extent to which their aging will affect them or how it will affect you. If your parents are already seniors, still in good health and living independently—you may not feel any dramatic changes or concerns. However, the time does come when effects of aging become more evident and long-term care may be needed.
Caregiving for an elderly parent marks one of the most significant transitions in life—a change in roles. Once, you were the one who was on the receiving end of decisions about everything from meals, transportation, recreational activities, personal safety, medical care, and finances.
An overall decline in physical and mental vitality may result in visible and even drastic changes to your parent’s appearance, the standard of life, and emotional well-being. The more aware you are of how aging can affect them, and what options are available to them as seniors, and for us as caring adult children, the better for all involved. The well-being of our parents is our ultimate wish as they age and live out the last years of their lives. Elder care means considering a family member’s emotional, mental and physical well-being.
START THE CONVERSATION
No matter where you are in the journey of family caregiving— just beginning to anticipate a need, helping coordinate a big move or taking care of a family member full time—having a good framework to help guide both you and your loved one will make the process easier.
A lot of uncertainty can be avoided if you talk with your loved one before something happens. It’s easy to put off these conversations because they can be difficult. Besides, we all get busy. It never seems like the right time to bring up what you think will likely be an uncomfortable topic. You may be surprised to find your loved one has been meaning to have the talk, too.
UNDERSTAND THE ESSENTIALS
Known as the ‘activities of daily living’ or ADLs, these are the essentials necessary to the physical and emotional well-being of seniors and will help ensure their daily living requirements are met effectively. Typically, these simple activities include:
• Functional Mobility (moving while performing activities, getting in and out of bed, in and out of a chair).
• Bathing or Showering.
• Personal Hygiene (includes brushing/styling hair, shaving, grooming activities).
• Toilet Hygiene (includes getting to the toilet, selfcleaning, getting up from the toilet).
If they have impaired mobility and health issues that make it difficult or impossible for them to take care of these ADLs independently then you need to find them the appropriate help. Whether it’s providing care (yourself or someone else who is qualified) or investing in the proper equipment and accessories to help them continue doing daily tasks independently, be aware that there are many choices and options available.
INSTRUMENTAL ACTIVITIES OF DAILY LIVING (IADLS).
Other types of daily living activities, not necessarily fundamental, but related to independent functioning are called instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). IADLs most often refer to the following types of activities with long-term care:
• Cooking and Preparing Meals.
• Cleaning and Maintaining the Home.
• Shopping and Buying Necessities.
• Running Errands.
• Managing Money and Paying Bills.
• Speaking or Communicating on the Phone or Through Other Devices.
• Taking Prescribed Medications.
Again, it’s important to the overall well-being of seniors that their IADLs are taken care of effectively and consistently. If there are obstacles or difficulties with doing these tasks alone, there is help. Whether it’s you, other siblings, relatives or friends that help out, or even professional caregivers, arranging help is possible. Other sources of help include technological devices that can provide assistance or even various community services geared at helping seniors. Taking an honest look at where an individual needs support is the first step and then assess at all the possible solutions in order get them the help they need.
Looking at how and where elderly parents of caring families live is critical to ensuring their well-being. Are they living alone? Do they live close to you, other siblings, or supportive relatives? Do they prefer to stay in their home or would they be open to moving into another more supportive location or living arrangement? These are all very important things to consider and discuss seriously with your elderly parents. Below are the most common types of living arrangements available to seniors:
Aging At Home. Independent living and aging in their own home. This is the choice of most seniors and staying independent at home may require several adjustments to the home as well as getting home support from a family caregiver or professional caregivers.
Living with A Relative/Family. Seniors who need assistance with daily activities and some health care support (non-skilled) while having the companionship and care provided by living with a family member(s).
Independent Living Communities. Suited best to active, independent seniors who rent or buy a home/apartments/mobile home in a community with other seniors. Amenities provided include gyms, clubhouse, yard maintenance, housekeeping and security in addition to transportation, laundry service, group meals and social activities. No medical support.
Individuals need a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center when recovering from a serious injury or illness in order to return home safely. — Jay Williams, Priority Management Group
Assisted Living Communities. Seniors who are still relatively independent but may need some assistance and caregiving with their daily activities such as meals, dressing, bathing, help with medication and transportation. Rooms or apartment rental, group meals, and amenities such as social activities, exercise, laundry and housekeeping services.
Nursing Homes. Seniors who require a living environment with medical surveillance and caregiving but don’t need a hospital. (chronic conditions or for short-term rehabilitative care). Offers nursing staff on-duty 24 hours a day. Medicaid pays for care for 7 out of every 10 nursing home residents but Medicare generally does not pay for nursing home care.
Palliative and Hospice Care Services. Dealing with a loved one’s decline may be one of the hardest experiences a person can go through. There is so much uncertainty about making the right decisions, and, at times, no decisions seem right. Certain organizations are dedicated to supporting people dealing with terminal illness. Palliative and hospice care offer distinctly different services, but both encompass a philosophy that aims to make patients as comfortable as possible.
Palliative care, also known as supportive care, addresses symptoms and side effects of serious illnesses, but most often cancer. Typically, palliative care is provided as an additional layer of support as a person goes through curative treatments, often addressing the emotional and psychological aspects of illness for the patient and their family. This type of care provides comfort and reduces pain. People receiving it can still try to cure their condition, such as through chemotherapy or surgery.
Hospice care, on the other hand, only takes place after a person stops seeking curative treatments. And while the word “hospice” sounds bleak to many, hospice care is not a death sentence—it’s a way to embrace life and get much-needed support for patients and families. The goal is to provide comfort, whatever that may mean for the individual—when doctors no longer deem recovery likely and are seeking quality of life over quantity of life.
Both types of care typically take place wherever a person considers home — whether that is their house, a retirement community, or a nursing home — or in a hospital. Some hospice and palliative care organizations offer inpatient units for when patients need additional support.
FINANCIAL NEEDS TO CONSIDER
Of course, there are the financial impacts of making necessary changes and choices to support the well-being of our parents. They may be eligible to receive additional financial support from government programs to offset their living expenses. Making sure that they take advantage of any programs they may be eligible is important. As well, they may need assistance in managing their finances and retirement funds and you may need to take a more active role in assisting them so they are financially secure during their senior years. Looking toward your senior years, take advantage of the benefits of retirement planning and financial planning, and consider both life and long-term care insurance.
Some important questions to consider when determining a facility: How often does their doctor visit? Does the facility have a full time Nurse Practitioner? What is their survey history from the Louisiana Department of Health? — Jennifer Peters, Garden Park
It’s a good idea to have legal documents prepared before you need them. At a minimum, it is beneficial to all involved to create both a health care and a financial Power of Attorney to designate someone to make these decisions if the individual is unable to do so. There are attorneys that specialize in Elder Care issues that affect seniors which may include estate planning, wills and trusts, long-term living situations, preserving and protecting assets, appeals to Social Security and Medicare, and addressing abuse and fraud, among others.
You need an Elder Care attorney when planning for longterm care, including nursing home and home care, for yourself or a family member who is either elderly or disabled. — Kyle Moore, Weems Schimpf Haines Shemwell & Moore, APLC
You are not alone. There are so many groups and organizations, independent and government funded that assist and help seniors. Educating yourself means helping your elderly parents get the best support and assistance available. Here are a few great resources geared at helping seniors:
Government Benefits. Benefits.gov is a great website to check out. Going straight to the source, here you can find out information on over 1,000 benefit and assistance programs covering health, disability, income, wealth (as in property owned), whether a military veteran, education level and more.
Area Agency on Aging. Area Agency on Aging is a federally mandated agency in your parish or city. Staffed by professionals they know every senior program and service, including available funding sources, in your area. This is also a great starting point to gather information about programs that seniors are eligible for and can use. Personal care, housekeeping, meal delivery, and respite care for the caregiver are often among the available services. Counselors are available to assist and even provide the necessary documents and forms to apply for programs. It’s worth the time to book an appointment and speak with them directly.
Other Programs. Benefitscheckup.org (National Council on Aging) is the nation’s most comprehensive web-based service where you can search benefits and programs for seniors with limited income and resources. You can find out which programs are available for:
• Prescription drugs
• In-home services
• Financial assistance
• Legal aid
• Energy/utility assistance
• Nutrition (including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP)/Food Stamps)
GETTING THE BEST CARE FOR SENIORS
Ultimately, its common to take on some type of caregiver role with elderly parents, even if you don’t live with them or provide daily care. As mom or dad, they once concerned themselves and devoted their time and energy to your well-being. Now, as adult children, you find yourself doing the same for them. No matter how you look at it, caring for parents means making sure they are safe, happy and taken care of. If their well-being is ensured then you have peace of mind.
Something to remember is that caring for elderly parents shouldn’t be a burden or responsibility to bear alone. Caregiver support is available. In addition to siblings and other family members, there are experts, professionals, resources, and loads of information to help you in caring for elderly parents. There are many choices and options available to allow them to age well and happily.
Finding the right mix for their welfare and happiness takes some time and is a dynamic condition that will change over time, perhaps even day to day. Don’t worry or stress out. Remember, you are not alone. Staying informed, considering their happiness and comfort and making use of as many supportive resources possible, is the best approach when caring for elderly parents.
REMEMBER TO CARE FOR YOURSELF.
Don’t overlook the impact of caregiving on you. Balancing caregiving with work and other family obligations can be stressful. When asked, family caregivers often say the most difficult part is the demand on their time. Stress can negatively affect your health, well-being and ability to provide care.
Allow yourself to take a break. Tend to your own needs for exercise, sleep and healthy eating. Find ways to reduce your stress and make sure to take time to have fun! If you take the time to care for yourself, you often return to your responsibilities renewed and better able to provide care for your loved one.